Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Failed E-Filed Return Hit With Penalties


I have noticed something about electronic filing of tax returns, especially state returns: there is a noticeable creep to demanding more and more information. I can understand if we are discussing tax-significant information, but too often the matter is irrelevant. We received a bounce from Wisconsin, for example, simply because there was a descriptor deep in the state return without an accompanying number.

How did this happen? Perhaps there was a number last year but not one this year. Could an accountant have scrubbed it out? Yes, in the same way that I could have played in the NFL. Work on a return of several hundred pages, add a few states in there for amusement, tighten the screws by closing in on a 15th deadline and you might miss a description on a line having no effect on the accuracy of the return.

Why is this an issue?

Because if a state – say Wisconsin - bounces a return, then it is the same as never having filed a return. The penalties for not filing a return are more severe than – for example - filing a return but not paying the tax. Does it strike you as a bit absurd for a state to argue that one never filed a return when an accountant prepared (and charged one for) that state return?

The US Tax Court has reviewed the issue of what counts as a federal tax return in a famous case called Beard v Commissioner. The Court looks at four items, each of which has to be met:

·      It must purport to be a return;

·      It must be signed under penalty of perjury;

·      It must contain sufficient information to allow the calculation of the tax; and

·      It must be an honest and reasonable attempt to satisfy the requirements of the tax law.

Let’s look at a case involving the Beard test.

John Spottiswood (let’s call him Mr S) filed a joint 2012 tax return using TurboTax. He made a mistake when entering a dependent’s social security number. He submitted the electronic return through TurboTax on or around April 12. Within a short period, TurboTax sent him an e-mail that the IRS had rejected the return.

Problem: The e-mail was sitting in TurboTax. Mr S needed to log back in to TurboTax to see the e-mail. A professional would know to check, but an ordinary individual might not think of it.

Another Problem: Mr S owed almost $400 grand with the return. Since the return was never accepted, the bank transfer never happened. He did not pay the tax until almost 2 years later.

The IRS tagged him over $40 grand for late payment of tax.

I have no issue with this. Think of the $40 grand as interest.

The IRS also tagged him over $89 grand for late filing of the return.

I have an issue here. Mr S did try to file; the IRS rejected his return. I see a significant difference between someone trying and failing to file a return and someone who simply blew off the responsibility to file. It strikes me as profoundly unfair to equate the two.

Mr S protested the late filing penalty.

He had two arguments:

(1)  He did file (per the Beard standard).

(2)  Failing that, he had reasonable cause to abate the penalty.

I like the first argument. I would advise Mr S to provide a copy of the return to the Court and request Beard.

COMMENT: I suppose the issue is whether the return would meet the third test – sufficient information to calculate the tax. I would argue that it would, as the IRS could deny the dependency exemption and recalculate the tax accordingly. If Mr S objected to the loss of the exemption, he could investigate and correct the social security number.

FURTHER COMMENT: The IRS argued that it could not calculate the tax because it had rejected the return. I consider this argument sophistry, at best. The IRS could simply reject a return ... some returns … all returns … and make the same argument.

But Mr S could not provide a copy of the return.

Why not? Who knows. I suppose he never kept a copy and later lost the username and password to the software.

The Court cut him no slack. To conclude that the return met the Beard standard, the Court had to … you know … look at his return.

That left his second argument: reasonable cause.

The Court again cut him no slack.

The Court said that he should have logged back into TurboTax and yada yada yada.

Seems severe except for one thing: how could Mr S fail to realize that he never got dinged with an almost-$400 thousand bank transfer? I get that he carried a large bank balance, but reasonable people would pay attention when moving $400 grand.

Mr S could not provide a copy of his return nor could he explain how he could blow-off $400 grand. The Court was not buying his jibe.

There was no Beard for Mr S, nor was there reasonable cause to abate the penalty.

OBSERVATION: It occurs to me that Mr S may have received no advantage from the dependency exemption. This case involves a 2012 tax return, and for 2012 it is very possible that the alternative minimum tax (AMT) applied to this return. The AMT serves to disallow selected tax attributes to higher-income taxpayers – attributes such as a dependency exemption (I am not making this up, folks). The Court did not say one way or the other, but I am left wondering if he was penalized for something that did not affect his ultimate tax.

Our case this time was Spottiswood v US.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Abatement Versus Refund


I was contacted recently to inquire about my interest in a proceduralist opportunity.

That raises the question: what is a proceduralist?

Think about navigating the IRS: notices, audits, payment plans, innocent spouse claims, liens and so on.  One should include state tax agencies too. During my career, I have seen states become increasingly aggressive. Especially after COVID – and its drain on state coffers - I suspect this trend will only continue.

I refer to procedure as “working the machine.” This is not about planning for a transaction, researching a tax consequence or preparing a tax return. That part is done. You have moved on to something else concerning that tax return.

Less glamorously, it means that I usually get all the notices.

Let’s go procedural this time.

Let’s talk about the difference between an abatement and a refund.

Mr Porporato (Mr P) filed a return for 2009. He owed approximately $10 grand in taxes.

He did not file for 2010 or 2011. The IRS prepared returns for him (called a Substitute Return), and he again owed approximately $10 grand for each year.

COMMENT: He had withholding but he still owed tax for each year. He probably showed have adjusted his withholding, but, then again, he went a couple of years without even filing. I doubt he cared.

The IRS came a-calling for the money, and Mr P requested a Collection Due Process hearing.

COMMENT: I agree, and that is what a CDP hearing is about. Mind you, the IRS wants to hear about payment plans, but at least you have a chance to consolidate the years and work-out a payment schedule.

There was chop in the water that we will not get into, other than Mr P’s claim that he had a refund for 2005 that was being ignored.

So what happened with 2005?

Mr P and his (ex) wife filed a joint 2005 return on June 15, 2006.

Then came a separation, then a divorce, then an innocent spouse claim.


He amended his 2005 return on March 29, 2010. The amended return changed matters from tax due to a tax overpayment. The IRS abated his 2005 liability.

There you have the first of our key words: abatement.

Let’s review the statute of limitations (SOL). You generally have three years to file a tax return and claim your refund, if any. Go past the three years and the IRS keeps your refund. There are modifiers in there, but that is the general picture. We also know the flip side of the SOL: the IRS has three years to examine your return. Go past three years and the IRS cannot look at that year (again, with modifiers). Why is this? It mostly has to do with administration. Somewhere in there you have to close the matter and move on.

Let’s point out that Mr P amended his 2005 return after more than three years. The IRS still reversed his tax due.

Can the IRS do that?



An IRS can abate at any time. Abatement is not subject to the restrictions of the SOL.

Abatement means that the IRS reducing what it wants to collect from you.

But the result was an overpayment.

Mr P wanted the IRS to refund his 2005 overpayment – more specifically, to refund via application of the overpayment to later tax years with balances due.

This is not the IRS reducing what it wants to collect. This is in fact going the other way: think of it as the IRS writing a check.

Wanting the IRS to write a check ran Mr P full-face into the statute of limitations. He filed the 2005 amended outside the three-year window, meaning that the SOL on the refund was triggered.

I get where Mr P was coming from. The IRS cut him slack on 2005, so he figured he was entitled to the rest of the slack.

He was wrong.

And there you have the procedural difference between an abatement and a refund. The IRS has the authority to reduce the amount it considers due from you, without regard to the SOL. The IRS however does not have the authority to write you a check after the SOL has expired.

Another way to say this is: you left money on the table.

Our case this time was Porporato v Commissioner (TC Summary Opinion 2020-24).

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Job, A Gig and Work Expenses


The case is straightforward enough, but it reminded me how variations of the story repeat in practice.

Take someone who has a W-2, preferably a sizeable W-2.

Take a gig (that is, self-employment activity).

Assign every expense you can think of to that gig and use the resulting loss to offset the W-2.

Our story this time involves a senior database engineer with PIMCO. In 2015 he reported approximately $176,000 in salary and $10,000 in self-employment gig income.  He reported the following expenses against the gig income:

·      Auto      $14,079

·      Other     $12,000

·      Office    $ 7,043

·      Travel    $ 6,550

·      Meals     $ 3,770

There were other expenses, but you get the idea. There were enough that the gig resulted in a $40 thousand loss.

I have two immediate reactions:

(1)  What expense comes in at a smooth $12,000?

(2)  Whatever the gig is, stop it! This thing is a loser.

In case you were curious, yes, the IRS is looking for this fact pattern: a sizeable (enough) W-2 and a sizeable (enough) gig loss.

In general, what one is trying to do is assign every possible expense to the gig. Say that one is financial analyst. There may be dues, education, subscriptions, licenses, travel and whatnot associated with the W-2 job. It would not be an issue if the employer paid or reimbursed for the expenses, but let’s say the employer does not. It would be tempting to gig as an analyst, bring in a few thousand dollars and deduct everything against the gig income.

It’s not correct, however. Let’s say that the analyst has a $95K W-2 and gigs in the same field for $5k. I see deducting 5% of his/her expenses against the gig income; there is next-to-no argument for deducting 100% of them.

The IRS flagged our protagonist, and the matter went to Court.

We quickly learned that the $10 grand of gig income came from his employer.

COMMENT: Not good. One cannot be an employee and an independent contractor with the same company at the same time. It might work if one started as a contractor and then got hired on, but the two should not exist simultaneously.

Then we learn that his schedule of expenses does not seem to correlate to much of anything: a calendar, a bank account, the new season release of Stranger Things.

The Court tells us that his “Travel” is mostly his commute to his W-2 job with PIMCO.

You cannot (with very limited exception) deduct a commute.

There were some “Professional Fees” that were legit.

But the Court bounced everything else.

I would say he got off well enough, all things considered. Please remember that you are signing that tax return to “the best of (your) knowledge and belief.”    

Our case this time was Pilyavsky v Commissioner.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Talking Frankly About Offers In Compromise

I am reading a case involving an offer in compromise (OIC).

In general, I have become disinclined to do OIC work.

And no, it is not just a matter of being paid. I will accept discounted or pro bono work if someone’s story moves me. I recently represented a woman who immigrated from Thailand several years ago to marry an American. She filed a joint tax return for her first married year, and – sure enough – the IRS came after her when her husband filed bankruptcy. When we met, her English was still shaky, at best. She wanted to return to Thailand but wanted to resolve her tax issue first. She was terrified.   

I was upset that the IRS went after an immigrant for her first year filing U.S. taxes ever, who had limited command of the language, who was mostly unable to work because of long-term health complications and who was experiencing visible - even to me - stress-related issues.

Yes, we got her innocent spouse status. She has since returned to Thailand.

Back to offers in compromise.

There are two main reasons why I shy from OIC’s:

(1) I cannot get you pennies-on-the-dollar.

You know what I am taking about: those late-night radio or television commercials.

Do not get me wrong: it can happen. Take someone who has his/her earning power greatly reduced, say by an accident. Add in an older person, meaning fewer earning years remaining, and one might get to pennies on the dollar.

I do not get those clients.

I was talking with someone this past week who wants me to represent his OIC. He used to own a logistics business, but the business went bust and he left considerable debt in his wake. He is now working for someone else.

Facts: he is still young; he is making decent money; he has years of earning power left.

Question: Can he get an OIC?

Answer: I think there is a good chance, as his overall earning power is down.

Can he get pennies on the dollar?

He is still young; he is making decent money; he has years of earning power left. How do you think the IRS will view that request?

(2) The multi-year commitment to an OIC.

When you get into a payment plan with the IRS, there is an expectation that you will improve your tax compliance. The IRS has dual goals when it makes a deal:

(a)  Collect what it can (of course), and

(b)  Get you back into the tax system.

Get into an OIC and the IRS expects you to stay out of trouble for 5 years. 

So, if you are self-employed the IRS will expect you to make quarterly estimates. If you routinely owe, it will want you to increase your withholding so that you don’t owe. That is your end of the deal.

I have lost count of the clients over the years who did not hold-up their end of the deal.  I remember one who swung by Galactic Command to lament how he could not continue his IRS payment plan and then asked me to step outside to see his new car.

Folks, there is little to nothing that a tax advisor can do for you in that situation. It is frustrating and – frankly – a waste of time.

Let’s look at someone who tried to run the five-year gauntlet.

Ed and Cynthia Sadjadi wound up owing for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

They got an installment plan.

Then they flipped it to an OIC.

COMMENT: What is the difference? In a vanilla installment plan, you pay back the full amount of taxes. Perhaps the IRS cuts you some slack with penalties, but they are looking to recoup 100% of the taxes. In an OIC, the IRS is acknowledging that they will not get 100% of the taxes.

The Sadjadis were good until they filed their 2015 tax return. They then owed tax.

The reasoned that they had paid-off the vast majority if not all of their 2008 through 2011 taxes. They lived-up to their end of the deal. They now needed a new payment plan.

Makes sense, right?

And what does sense have to do with taxes?

The Court reminded them of what they signed way back when:

I will file tax returns and pay the required taxes for the five-year period beginning with the date and acceptance of this offer.

The IRS will not remove the original amount of my tax debt from its records until I have met all the terms and conditions of this offer.

If I fail to meet any of the terms of this offer, the IRS may levy or sue me to collect …..

The Court was short and sweet. What part of “five-year period” did the Sadjadis not understand?

Those taxes that the IRS wrote-off with the OIC?

Bam! They are back.

Yep. That is how it works.

Our case this time was Sadjadi v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-58.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Don’t Be A Jerk


I am looking at a case containing one of my favorite slams so far this year.

Granted, it is 2020 COVID, so the bar is lower than usual.

The case caught my attention as it begins with the following:

The Johnsons brought this suit seeking refunds of $373,316, $192,299, and $114,500 ….”

Why, yes, I would want a refund too.

What is steering this boat?

… the IRS determined that the Johnsons were liable for claimed Schedule E losses related to real estate and to Dr. Johnson’s business investments.”

Got it. The first side of Schedule E is for rental real estate, so I gather the doctor is landlording. The second side reports Schedules K-1 from passthroughs, so the doctor must be invested in a business or two.

There is a certain predictability that comes from reviewing tax cases over the years. We have rental real estate and a doctor.

COMMENT: Me guesses that we have a case involving real estate professional status. Why? Because you can claim losses without the passive activity restrictions if you are a real estate pro.

It is almost impossible to win a real estate professional case if you have a full-time gig outside of real estate.  Why? Because the test involves a couple of hurdles:

·      You have to spend at least 750 hours during the year in real estate activities, and

·      Those hours have to be more than ½ of hours in all activities.

One might make that first one, but one is almost certain to fail the second test if one has a full-time non-real-estate gig. Here we have a doctor, so I am thinking ….

Wait. It is Mrs. Johnson who is claiming real estate professional status.

That might work. Her status would impute to him, being married and all.

What real estate do they own?

They have properties near Big Bear, California.

These were not rented out. Scratch those.

There was another one near Big Bear, but they used a property management company to help manage it. One year they used the property personally.

Problem: how much is there to do if you hired a property management company? You are unlikely to rack-up a lot of hours, assuming that you are even actively involved to begin with.

Then there were properties near Las Vegas, but those also had management companies. For some reason these properties had minimal paperwork trails.

Toss up these softballs and the IRS will likely grind you into the dirt. They will scrutinize your time logs for any and every. Guess what, they found some discrepancies. For example, Mrs. Johnson had counted over 80 hours studying for the real estate exam.

Can’t do that. Those hours might be real-estate related, but the they are not considered operational hours - getting your hands dirty in the garage, so to speak. That hurt. Toss out 80-something hours and …. well, let’s just say she failed the 750-hour test.

No real estate professional status for her.

So much for those losses.

Let’s flip to the second side of the Schedule E, the one where the doctor reported Schedules K-1.

There can be all kinds of tax issues on the second side. The IRS will probably want to see the K-1s. The IRS might next inquire whether you are actually working in the business or just an investor – the distinction means something if there are losses. If there are losses, the IRS might also want to review whether you have enough money tied-up – that is, “basis” - to claim the loss. If you have had losses over several years, they may want to see a calculation whether any of that “basis” remains to absorb the current year loss.

 Let’s start easy, OK? Let’s see the K-1s.

The Johnson’s pointed to a 1000-plus page Freedom of Information request.

Here is the Court:

The Johnsons never provide specific citations to any information within this voluminous exhibit and instead invite the court to peruse it in its entirety to substantiate their arguments.”

Whoa there, guys! Just provide the K-1s. We are not here to make enemies.

Here is the Court:

It behooves litigants, particularly in a case with a record of this magnitude, to resist the temptation to treat judges as if they were pigs sniffing for truffles.”

That was a top-of-the-ropes body slam and one of the best lines of 2020.

The Johnsons lost across the board.

Is there a moral to this story?

Yes. Don’t be a jerk.

Our case this time was Johnson DC-Nevada, No 2:19-CV-674.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Are You Insolvent Or Not?

There is a case called Hamilton v Commissioner. It was recently decided in the 10th Circuit, and it caught my eye.

Since it went to a Circuit court, you may correctly assume that this case was on appeal.

Frankly, I do not see a win condition for the taxpayer here. It does, however, give us an opportunity to discuss the concept of a tax nominee.

The patriarch of our story – Mr Hamilton – borrowed over $150,000 to send his son to medical school.

Mr Hamilton injured his back in 2008 – and badly.

I presume that translated into loss of income and a difficult time servicing debt.

Mrs Hamilton finally got the student loan discharged in 2011.

A key point is that the student loan belonged to Mr Hamilton – not the son. When the loan was discharged, the tax effect is therefore analyzed at Mr Hamilton’s level, as he was the debtor.

Before the discharge, Mrs Hamilton transferred approximately $300 grand into a rarely used savings account owned by her son. He in turn gave her the username and password so she could access the account. Throughout 2011, for example, she withdrew close to $120,000 from the account.

COMMENT: There you have the issue of a nominee: whose account is it: Mrs Hamilton’s, the son’s, or both? Granted, it the son’s name is on the account, but is he acting as the face man – that is, a nominee – for someone else?

The issue in the case is whether the discharged debt of $150 grand was taxable to the Hamiltons in 2011.

In general, if your recourse debt is discharged, you have taxable income. There are several exceptions, of which one of the better known is bankruptcy. File for bankruptcy and the tax Code allows you to exclude the debt from taxable income.

But … it requires you to file bankruptcy.

There is a similar – but not quite the same – exception that has to do with insolvency. For tax purposes, one is insolvent if one’s debts exceeds one’s assets.

EXAMPLE: You have assets (house, car, savings, etc.) of $400,000. You owe $500,000. You are insolvent to the extent that your debts exceed your assets ($500,000 – 400,000 = $100,000).

Mind you, you are not filing for bankruptcy. I suppose it is possible that you could power through this stretch, cutting back personal expenditures to a minimum and applying everything else to debt. Still, you are technically insolvent.

The tax Code lets you exclude debt forgiveness from taxable income to the extent that you are insolvent.

EXAMPLE: Let’s continue with the above example. Say that $50,000 is forgiven. You are $100,000 insolvent. $50 grand is less than $100 grand, so $50 grand would be excluded under the insolvency exception.

NEXT EXAMPLE: What if $125 grand was forgiven? You could exclude $100 grand and no more. That last $25,000 would be taxable, as you are no longer insolvent.

The insolvency calculation puts a lot of pressure on what to include and what to exclude in the calculation. Do you include a 401(k) account, for example? Do you include someone else’s loan on which you cosigned?

In the Hamilton case, do you include that savings account?

Under state law, the son did own the account. Tax law however will rarely allow itself to be trapped by mere formality. This judicial doctrine is referred as “substance over form,” and it means what it says: tax law will generally look at the players and on-field performance and resist being distracted by the school band and T-shirt cannons.

The Court made short work of this case.

The taxpayers argued, for example, that the son could change the username and password at any time, so it would be a leap to call him an agent or nominee for his parents.

Yep, and a delivery spaceship for intergalactic deep-dish pizza could land on Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta during rush hour.

If you can log-in with impunity and move $120,000 grand, then you have effective control over the bank account. The mother’s name was not on the account, but it may as well have been because the son was his mother’s agent – that is, her nominee.

I have no problem with that. I would have done the same for my mother, without hesitation.

What the Hamiltons could not do, however, was leave-out that bank account when they were counting assets for purposes of the insolvency calculation. It was, after all, around $300 hundred – less than a Bezos but a lot more than a smidgeon.

Did it affect the insolvency calculation?

Of course it did. That is why the case went to Court.

The Hamiltons were not insolvent. They had income from the debt discharge.

They had to try, I guess, but I doubt whether they ever had a win condition.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

No Required Minimum Distributions For 2020

There is a tax deadline coming up. It may matter to those who are taking required minimum distributions (MRDs) from your IRAs and certain employer-based plans.

You may recall that there is a trigger concerning retirement plans when one reaches age 72.
COMMENT: The trigger used to be age 70 ½ for tax years before 2020.
The trigger is – with some exception for employer-based plans – that one has to start withdrawing from his/her retirement account. There are even IRS-provided tables, into which one can insert one’s age and obtain a factor to calculate a required minimum distribution.
COMMENT: There are severe penalties for not withdrawing a minimum distribution. Fortunately, the IRS is fairly lenient in allowing one to “catch-up” and avoid those penalties. At 50% of the required distribution, the MRD penalty rate is one of the most severe in the tax Code.
Let’s say that you are in the age range for MRDs. You have, in fact, been taking monthly MRDs this far into 2020.

There has been a law change: you can take 2020 distributions if you wish, but distributions are not mandatory or otherwise required. That is, there are no MRDs for 2020. This means that you can take less than the otherwise-table-calculated amount (including none, if you wish) and not taunt that 50% penalty.

Why the change in tax law?

The change is related to the severe economic contractions emanating from COVID and its associated lockdowns and stay-at-home restrictions. Congress realized that there was little financial sense in forcing one to sell stocks and securities into a bear market to raise the cash necessary to pay oneself MRDs.

Hot on the heels of the change is the fact that different people take MRDs at different times. Some people take the distribution early in the year, others late, and yet others take distributions monthly or quarterly. There is no wrong answer; it just depends on one’s cash flow needs.

Let’s take the example we started with: monthly distributions.

Well, it’s fine and dandy that I do not have to take any more distributions, but what about the amount I took in January -before the law change? And February – before …., well, you get the point.

You can put the money back into the IRA or retirement account.

Think of it as a mulligan.

But you have to do this by a certain date: August 31, 2020.

You have approximately another month to get it done.

Here are some questions you may have:

(1)  Does this change apply to 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457(b)s?

Answer: Yes.

(2)  How about inherited accounts?

Answer: Yes. You have to put it back in the same (that is, the inherited) account, of course.

(3)  What if I was having taxes withheld?

Answer: You are going to have reach into your pocketbook temporarily. Say that you took a $25,000 distribution with 20% federal withholding. You never spent any of it, so you have $20,000 sitting in your bank account. If you want to unwind the entire transaction, you are going to have to take $5,000 from somewhere, add it to the $20,000 you already have and put $25,000 back into your IRA or retirement account.

You may wonder what happened to the $5 grand that was withheld. It will be refunded to you – when you file your 2020 tax return.

(4)  Continuing with Example (3): what if I don’t have the $5 grand?

Answer: Then put back the $20,000 you do have. It’s not 100%, but you put back most of it. You will have that gigantic withholding when you finally file your 2020 taxes.

(5)  What if I turned 70 ½ last year (2019) and HAVE TO take a MRD in 2020?

Answer: The answer may surprise you. The downside to waiting is that you would (normally) have to take a distribution for 2019 (you turned 70 ½, after all) and another for 2020 itself. This means that you are taking two MRDs in one tax year. Under the new 2020 tax law, you do not have to take EITHER (2019 or 2020) distribution. Your first distribution would be in 2021, and you would have had no distributions for 2019 or 2020.

(6)  Does this change apply to pensions?

Answer: No. Pensions are “defined benefit” plans, whereas IRAs, 401(k)s and so on are “defined contribution” plans. The change is only for defined contribution plans.

(7)  Does this change apply to Roths?

Answer: Roths do not have minimum required distributions, so this law change means bupkis to them.

(8)  What if I went the other way: I withdrew from my traditional IRA and would like to put it back as a Roth?

Answer: Normally one cannot do this, as MRDs do not qualify for a Roth conversion. With no MRDs for 2020, however, you have a one-time opportunity to flip some of your traditional IRA into a Roth. Remember that you will have to pay tax on this, though.  

(9)  How does this law change interact with the qualified charitable distribution rules?

Answer: A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is when you have your IRA custodian issue a check directly to a charity. You do not get a deduction for the contribution, but the upside is that you do not have to report the distribution as income. If you do not itemize deductions, this technique is – by far – the most tax-efficient way to go. The QCD rules are independent of the MRD 2020 rule change. If you want to donate via charitable distributions in 2020, then go for it!

If you are already into your MRD for 2020 and do not need the money – some or all of it – remember that you have approximately another month to put it back.